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Election apathy?

Aaron Steiner | Friday, November 7, 2008

Notre Dame surprised me this election season.

The stereotype has long been that Notre Dame students are apathetic, unaware or just too restrained about politics. Students here just don’t have that activist spirit that thrives on many college campuses – or so they say.

The Observer examined the perceived apathy among students in 2007, citing low levels of activism and only one demonstration against the war in Iraq on campus – sponsored by an outside group. (“Campus struggles with activism, apathy,” Mar. 28, 2007)

Indeed, political party clubs on campus weren’t – until this year – allowed to use funds to campaign for any particular candidate. Politics, at least by my impressions, was rarely discussed in the dining hall or dorms. It had been over 15 years – until this fall – that a presidential candidate visited campus, the last being Bill Clinton’s visit in 1992.

By those signs, Notre Dame looks apathetic. But perhaps a different breed of activism and involvement is present at Notre Dame.

Professor George Lopez of the Notre Dame Kroc Institute for International Peace Studies told The Observer in March, 2007, that Notre Dame students are “more levelheaded” and “more judicious” when it comes to activism, political or otherwise.

My own impressions from this fall would seem to prove that point.

Students attended dozens of lectures and discussions about the election, on a variety of topics. At the events I attended, I witnessed intellectual debate that usually moved beyond the rhetoric that’s rehashed for hours on end on cable television.

The College Libertarians got a presidential candidate to stop at Notre Dame, and while I wouldn’t say that the event was heavily attended, Bob Barr’s presence on campus at least brought more to the table in terms of discussion.

My classmates watched the debates, and discussed their implications in the dining halls or before class. Although the discussion usually centered on the funnier moments and the catch phrases (“maverick” or “Joe the Plumber,” anyone?) that often were part of drinking games, that students could discuss the debates is testimony to their attentiveness to the events.

Student government moved to allow campus political groups to use funds to promote specific candidates.

The list continues: over 2,500 students voted in the mock election, many registered to vote with NDVotes ’08, and students volunteered with local and national campaigns.

Notre Dame, perhaps that stereotype about political apathy needs re-evaluation.

Sure, I didn’t usually hear the loud and raucous discussion and debate that might be present on some college campuses. But instead, I witnessed more “levelheaded” and “judicious” discussion and debate that might just indicate a greater level of interest than some perceive.